Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Writing a Cooking Journal

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Last year my sister-in-law put together a cookbook full of my grandmother's recipes and gave it to me for Christmas. I know it's a gift that will become more and more precious as the years go by and the still-crisp memories of my grandmother begin to fade. For many of us, the passing down of recipes is one of the most significant preservers of identity, culture, ideas and traditions. This is something I think about while making Irish stew every year on Saint Patrick's Day, or when I sit down to plan our Easter menu. My young children already seem to understand the love conveyed when cooking for other people. My friend had a bad day at school today, Kate recently said to me. Maybe we should bake her cookies!

While I recognize that many of our beloved family traditions are happening around the table, I haven't given much thought to recording this part of our history. And then the other day I stumbled across a fabulous article by Janet Theophano on the Joy of Baking website. I love, love this and had to share it with you:

As early as the 17th century, women have been sharing and recording recipes in book form.  But the books they made were not merely a compilation of recipes.  They were really a journal of a  woman's domestic life.  You would sometimes find household and gardening advice, as well as formulas for making medicines, as a place to save clippings on events taking place in their neighborhood, a place to save letters from friends and family, to record or even write poetry and quotations, and as a place where children practiced their writing of letters.  Some women kept adding to their journals throughout their lives so these books became a diary of their domestic development.  As the years went by you could see the progress of their cooking skills by the increasing complexity of the recipes and their abilities to adapt the recipes to their own tastes. Some women were so pleased with their accomplishments that they published their personal recipe books.

A wonderful gift we can give to our children and ourselves is to start recording our favorite family recipes so they do not become lost or forgotten.  I have contact with so many people who want to locate a lost family recipe.  Fond memories of a favorite food from childhood so often surface as we grow older and people want to make these foods a part of their lives again.  So take the time to write the recipes down, as well as the date and where you found the recipe (from a friend, newspaper, Internet).  Make a note as to why it is special (did you have it at a friend's party, or maybe it was a special cake recipe for a child's birthday party).  Record any changes you may have made to the recipe to make it your own.  Use your cookery scrapbook as a journal of your own daily domestic life.  As you come across quotes or passages that strike a cord, write them down in your journal before they are forgotten.  Wouldn't it be fun to be able to look back over the years gone by to see how you have evolved in your cooking skills and your likes and dislikes? 

I believe the writing of a cooking journal with all its recipes, tips, quotes, letters, etc. should be valued in the same way as a personal diary or gardening journal is valued. 

For a devoted collector of notebooks this article struck a chord. I already keep a plain, three ring binder in my kitchen cupboard that is stuffed with computer printed, torn from a magazine, and hastily written recipes, but those pages hardly tell the story of where they came from and why they ended up in the binder. Thumbing through my recipe stash this week I couldn't help but wish I'd made more notes, which is something that comes easily to many cooks. I have a friend who uses the back of birth and wedding announcements as index cards to write down recipes. I love that. She knows that every time she makes gingersnaps she can flip the card over and marvel at how tiny baby Molly used to be! I also have a cousin who is all about hand written recipes. She has in her possession recipes written in long hand from friends and family throughout her life. How precious a brief list of ingredients scrawled in black pen becomes when the person who wrote it has passed on!

I'm not suggesting any of us adopt a strict regimen of writing our entire life story while the noodles are boiled into rubber. Yet there is so much history that happens in our kitchens and a brief note here, a short jot there and we can take it with us. The sad and silly stories behind your favorite recipes will be told and re-told every time you open your cookbook!

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